Even if I hadn’t known before, a cycle ride for an ice-cream in our local village would leave me in absolutely no doubt that an election is looming. There are election posters and hoardings everywhere you look. We had an election just last week, but that was for our Mayor, and the town and county council. Next week it’s the Big One.
When I first came to Germany I was appalled by the abundance of politics, everywhere. Weekend peak viewing? Political talk shows, where people sit around in armchairs discussing, well, politics. Dinner or coffee with friends? Let’s talk about politics! I found it boring and somehow embarrassing.
I’ve been here so long that I have begun to understand the importance and relevance of a politically-informed population, who know that if you elect a clown you will end up with a circus.
Most citizens of the USA and UK are surprised how limited the power of the German chancellor actually is. Power and responsibility are shared through many layers in the modern German political system, the individual states, called “Länder”, being responsible for some things and the federal government for others.
Here we see, for instance, that in questions of tax & finances, the “Bund” (that’s federal government) is responsible for defence; the “Länder” (states) education and the “Gemeinden” (municipalities) for museums.
Next Sunday, we will have two votes. Our ballot papers will look something like this, although probbaly with far more boxes:
On the left, we vote for a person, a “direct” candidate, who will represent our constituency, on the right we vote for a political party.
Once everyone who wants to has done that, the votes are counted, and then the discussions start.
German politics is built on compromise, consensus and coalition and it may take many months until coalition partners, and the resulting policies have been agreed. There’s even a special word in German for this process: “sondieren”.
We expect the number of seats in the Bundestag to increase.
Whatever happens, and however many members of parliament there are, the era of Angela Merkel has come to an end.
I think we will miss her, not least because we knew we could count on her not to embarrass us in public.
I’m crossing my fingers for the candidates and parties I support, but most I’m crossing my fingers for a big voter turnout.
It’s a shame to take the right to vote for granted.